Lillian Folk Opera: A Romantic Approach To Ocean Plastic Pollution


Lillian album cover. Image: Ben Lear.

Although raising awareness about plastic ocean pollution was not the main motivation behind its creation, the 'folk opera' album Lillian and its composer Ben Lear have become regulars at events related to ocean conservation.

During our trip with 5 Gyres a few weeks ago, TreeHugger sat down with Lear to talk about the project, which he's presenting this summer with various concerts in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

A Place Where All That's Lost In Life Goes

Lillian began as Lear's senior project when he was studying composition at NYU and he found out about the so called 'pacific garbage patch'.

"The description of the patch as an island of trash floating in the ocean put an image in my mind that was both terrifying and inspiring," he says. "I was working on an idea around what it would be like if there was a room that held everything you lost in life, what would that room look like, and suddenly the garbage patch was the room."


Ben Lear Singing At The 5 Gyres South Pacific Expedition. Photo: Paula Alvarado.

Not technically an opera, the project is more like a concept album that tells the story of a young man who goes out to sea looking for a lost love with characters he meets underwater (one of which, funnily enough, is David De Rothschild).

When premiered last year at Le Poisson Rouge, it included multi-media art by group Aytia/Matia with projected video art, sequenced lighting and underwater footage provided by actor-director Fisher Stevens, who won an Oscar for producing the documentary "The Cove."

Taking Action With The Anti Ocean Pollution Movement

Besides from being a romantic way of bringing this complicated issue up to people who normally wouldn't know about it, Lillian is also a beautifully crafted set of love songs that are just lovely to hear. However, because of the link with the subject, Lear has been involved with activist groups and events such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition and their TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch last year and the Safe Planet Full Fathom Five Revue this May, apart from taking part in 5 Gyres' latest expedition to the South Pacific.

"I've always been conscious of ocean issues, mostly about overfishing and coral reefs degradation," says Lear, "but as a byproduct of the work, this became a great passion and it became very clear that the album was a great opportunity to raise awareness".


Ben Lear Performing At The TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch Event. Photo: Nels Israelson/Creative Commons.

Still a small project, Lear hopes that if it grows enough it will help spread the word on ocean pollution. "Everyone that's heard about it has learned more about the garbage patch through the project. Although I may have perpetuated this misconception that the patch is this island of trash, now I want to make sure I clarify what it really is whenever I have the opportunity," he explains. The artist also wants to keep being an advocate for the issue and help groups and organizations working on it.

Gigs And Arty Plans

Over the summer, Lear is heading a series of shows to present the album in Los Angeles (this weekend at The Hotel Cafe), New York and Philadelphia (dates on his Facebook page).

Although currently the album is being played without the whole multi-media setting, there will be a new set up of the opera in August. For this opportunity, he's organizing a project in which a group of artists will build sculptures with plastic bottles as a way to see what a regular plastic bottle can become.


A video of Lear performing a song during the 5 Gyres expedition.

In the spirit of the recent World Ocean Day, go ahead and give Lillian a go. You can stream the album online or get it on iTunes.

More at the project website, or following Ben Lear on Twitter.

Ocean Pollution Related Posts
TreeHugger's Voyage With 5 Gyres Through The South Pacific Garbage Patch
5 Gyres Founders Explain How Plastic Pollution in Oceans Really Works (Video)
Vacuum Cleaners Made from Ocean Plastic Highlight Ugly Pollution, Beautiful Design

Tags: Artists | Brooklyn | Music | New York City